And the winner is … something no one has seen yet

By Karsten Burgstahler

Monday night director Garry Marshall stepped out on stage in front of his colleagues to present an award for “August: Osage County” at the Hollywood Film Awards.

Too bad he, and probably a good majority of the room, hasn’t seen it yet.

The Hollywood Film Awards used to be treated as a throwaway ceremony. With their position so early in the awards ceremony, it was easy to just push them to the side: some of the movies haven’t screened for critics yet. There’s also no massive academy dedicated to voting on the awards; event producer Carlos de Abreu picks the winners along with an “advisory panel.” There are no other hints as to whom this panel is comprised of; for all we know, Abreu could just be giving out awards for movies he likes. It’s the ultimate form of “the Academy members don’t know what they’re doing. If I picked the winners …”


But Hollywood shows up. Sandra Bullock was on hand to accept an actress award for “Gravity” and Steve McQueen accepted an award for “12 Years a Slave,” which hasn’t expanded beyond a limited release yet. There are no nominees for the awards, only a winner, and this year the list leaked out ahead of time, perhaps in an effort to lure the victors.

One could look at the Hollywood Film Awards as a testing ground for actors who aren’t quite confident enough for Oscar night. The show isn’t televised, at least not yet — Dick Clark Productions now owns the rights to the ceremony.

I love awards season. It’s the time of year where I’m not the only one who wants to incessantly gab on about movies. But the Hollywood Film Awards are giving credence to what I consider one of the biggest problems in Hollywood right now — adoration for films that hardly anyone has had the chance to see yet. When “12 Years a Slave” first screened for film festival audiences, the movie was immediately declared the film to beat for Best Picture, despite the fact no one had seen several other big contenders yet.

Our internet-addicted culture is in such a rush to be first. It’s like if “12 Years a Slave” were to win Best Picture, some blogger or critic wants to be able to say “I called it first!” Somehow we’ve got it in our heads that it means something to be first, rather than be right. Real criticism about these films gets drowned out while we all scream praises for these movies from the mountaintops. Because an undisclosed group decides the Hollywood Film Awards, how can the awards really mean anything? It’s fair to say someone is a legitimate contender for a nomination, or to say you could logically see someone winning an award because history is on their side. But it’s just crazy to be outright declaring a winner.

In de Abreu’s defense, he isn’t trying to prove the award show’s relevance. I’m certain he understands exactly what he’s doing: he’s trying to be first. He figures that when Bullock accepts her Oscar for “Gravity” (and while it’s a great performance, I’m not ready to declare her Best Actress yet) he can say, “I awarded it first!”

I do like the idea of stars using the awards ceremony as a mock trial. It’s fair to say Bullock needs to warm up her award season glad-handing abilities, and a non-televised event is a great place to run through the pressure without having millions of eyes focused on you. My solution? Don’t televise the ceremony. That only gives legitimacy to one guy who decided he can declare awards. But think of it as de Abreu’s way of giving the stars he thinks are most deserving a chance to get used to the spotlight.

It’s certainly going to be an interesting awards season, but I’m wary of naming contenders until I’ve seen more of the nominees. “12 Years a Slave” hasn’t hit Carbondale yet and awards-ready films like “August: Osage County” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” aren’t in theaters for a while.


No matter who wins awards this season, the audience is the ultimate winner — the number of great options for adults at the theater hasn’t been this strong in quite some time.